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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Deep divisions cut short Republican hopes for a quick revival of Obamacare replacement legislation on Wednesday, as Congress prepared to leave town for a two-week recess without a deal to end party infighting.
“We are going to go home tomorrow without a deal,” Congressman Chris Collins, a Republican moderate in the U.S. House of Representatives, told reporters.
A White House ally, Collins said days of negotiations have broken down over conservative demands to allow states to waive popular Obamacare policies that protect sick people from price discrimination and allow young adults to stay on their parents’ healthcare plans until age 26.
He said the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus was “moving the goal posts” for negotiations, risking potential support from moderate Republicans.
Both sides of the debate have warned that the Republican push for healthcare reform, one of President Donald Trump’s top campaign promises, could lose momentum if lawmakers left this week without a deal to bridge fissures that led to the legislation’s failure on March 24, when House Speaker Paul Ryan canceled a vote.
Earlier on Wednesday, Heritage Action Chief Executive Mike Needham told reporters his conservative group was looking at ways to target House moderates known as the Tuesday Group, with attack ads in their districts and other tactics.
But Ryan told a forum that the discussions had been “very productive” and emphasized that Republican leaders have not set a deadline for agreement.
“We can keep working this for weeks now,” Ryan said. “We’ve got time to figure this out.”
Republicans have been railing against President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act since its enactment in 2010. On Tuesday, some Republican lawmakers expressed hope the Trump White House would unveil a healthcare bill. Some conservatives said a vote by the House was possible this week.
The legislation has not yet emerged, despite talks with Republican lawmakers led by Vice President Mike Pence. A House Republican leadership aide said on Wednesday that plans remained on track for the divided chamber to begin a more than two-week recess by mid-afternoon on Thursday.
Representative Mark Meadows, chairman of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, late on Tuesday said, “There’s a concern on my part that if we’re making real progress, that going home sends the wrong message.”
Meadows told reporters on Wednesday he had not yet heard from the White House about timing of the next negotiation session.
Still, the negotiations will allow lawmakers to return to their home districts and tell voters they are trying to deliver on a campaign promise that helped them win election.
In an interview with Axios and NBC television, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Republicans will produce a healthcare bill, but did not provide a timetable.
Late on Tuesday, following a closed-door meeting with House Republicans, Pence told reporters there was “good talk, good progress” toward a bill. He did not elaborate.
Republican lawmakers have said efforts are focused on maintaining Obamacare’s essential health benefits, such as mental health coverage and maternity care. But states could apply for waivers if they could improve coverage and reduce costs.
If major portions of Obamacare are repealed, there were discussions of creating a “backstop” so premiums do not spike for people with chronic illnesses in high-risk insurance pools.
(Additional reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by David Gregorio and Nick Zieminski)